Michelle and Kris joined forces to review Gifts for the Season. This anthology features fifteen stories by a whole host of authors, with the proceeds going to the amazing charity, The Trevor Project. It should be noted that a good chunk of these stories are tied into existing series, and familiarity with those series is necessary in order to fully enjoy the stories. This is something that most of the authors were remiss in pointing out. And while the description states the anthology includes Christmas and winter stories, the majority are focused on Christmas. Here we’ve included reviews of select stories from the anthology. We have rated each story we read individually, rather than the anthology as a whole.
Twelve days of UPS by Eli Easton—4.5 stars
Paul has been getting packages every day, the theme obviously after the poem The Twelve Days of Christmas. Except he has no idea who is sending them, and no matter how much he contemplates it, he can’t figure it out. What’s even more intriguing is Dan, the hunky UPS guy, who delivers each package. With each day, the two get to know each other better. And a night on the deck, with cheese and wine, brings them even closer. But when Christmas Day arrives, Paul finally gets to find out who his mystery sender is. Now that he has feelings for Dan, Paul can’t help but hope that Dan is the one waiting on the other side.
This story was just cute. I loved the creative gifts, and I loved the slow build between the MCs. Though it’s short in words, we definitely see Paul and Dan gravitating toward each other, and the one scene where they can have real conversation adds to the anticipation. Easton does a nice job of letting us inside Paul’s head, as he’s the POV character, and gives us enough of Dan so that we know where he’s coming from as well. This ends with a really nice HFN, and I finished it with a smile on my face.
Must Be Santa by Annabeth Albert—4 stars
Teddy and Nick have everything they could ever want. Love, happiness, and a marriage that is thriving. Everything except children. After some long discussions, they decide to take classes and apply to become foster parents. And then, quicker than they expected, they have two children in need of a foster home. It’s not always easy, and Nick and Teddy have to remember to find time for themselves as a couple. But slowly and surely, they win the children’s trust, and just might get their wish for family granted.
Nick and Teddy first appeared as the main characters in Albert’s holiday story, Better Not Pout, but while it’s nice to have read their story, it’s not strictly necessary for enjoying this short. We get to see them happily in love here, and working on starting their own family. I liked seeing them again, but the story isn’t so much about their love with each other, but how they are expanding that to kids who need them. There’s no angst here, and while there is mention of the kids having moments where they break down, it’s not shown on page. Really, things work out incredibly well for the MCs and the two kids. It was nice to see for a short story in an anthology. Just happy moments and holiday cheer. But I would have liked to see this fleshed out into a longer story, especially considering the subject matter. As it was, if felt a little truncated and glossed over at some moments. All in all, it was a decent story filled with some of Albert’s usual charm.
The First Snow of Winter by Joanna Chambers— 4.5 stars
Sam Alderton has just returned from war, missing a limb and a shadow of his former self. But his mother’s pleading has him agreeing to stay at Alderton Hall over Christmas, despite the fact that she’s invited the Huxleys for the holidays. The last time Sam saw the Huxleys, and more specifically, Jasper Huxley, was five years before he shipped off for the continent. And a kiss with Jasper that night has played on Sam’s mind ever since. When Jasper arrives ahead of his family, and a snowstorm makes it impossible for the carriages to get through, Jasper and Sam are snowed in together. Conversation is easy between them, and Jasper quickly accepts and understands about Sam’s missing arm. Sam knows what it’s like to stare death in the face, and that, coupled with the way Jasper looks at him, makes Sam brave enough to try something for something more between them.
Chambers packs a lot into this short story without making it feel like anything is missing. The imagery is so clear, it’s easy to picture 1814, the estate, and these men. Sam is rawly emotional, but he keeps it in check in front of others. He knows things will need to change as time goes on, especially because he can no longer do what he could before. But he also knows what it’s like to be on the edge of dying, and that makes him brave in ways he doesn’t realize. Jasper is a just a sweet and lovely man, who doesn’t even try to pretend he’s not gay, though it’s certainly not accepted. He seems to say the right thing, but more than that, he feels it. He’s exactly what Sam needs right now, and together they make a wonderful couple. I would love to see where these two go in the future, and how they navigate their relationship given the time and social norms. But it ends with a wonderful HFN.
Five Gold Blings by Clare London—3.5 stars
Gray runs a local delivery service, and when he delivers a package to A Partridge, he discovers an adorable man in a desperate state. Gray gets roped in to helping Alec with his vlog, modeling what Alec’s sponsors have sent. But Alec has his own talent with design, and when a package fails to arrive, Gray convinces Alec to go after his own dreams.
This one moves fast, and Gray and Alec are a whirlwind. Alec has a huge personality, and Gray is sucked into his orbit. He’s so attracted to Alec, he does whatever the man says. But with each passing day, he learns more about the man as well. I liked these two together, but everything happened so fast without much development that I didn’t believe in their romance very much. If it was just a hook up, it would have been fine. But by the end of the story, they were committing to each other in life and in business, and it just didn’t seem all that believable to me. It was supposed to be an HEA, but it fell flat for me.
Sojourn for Christmas by Posy Roberts–3.5 stars
This story starts the new Nutgrove series by Roberts and introduces us to Sawyer and Gregg. Sawyer is in college and he walks Murphy, Gregg’s dog. When Sawyer is outted to his father, he has no place to go for the holidays, and Gregg offers to let Sawyer “soujourn” at his home. Sawyer has been attracted to Gregg and he likes the older man’s looks, love handles, and comforting presence. Sawyer thinks that Gregg is straight and is trying to cultivate a friendship with Gregg, despite the thoughts that keep popping into his head.
This story is told entirely from Sawyer’s POV, and I would have liked more on what Gregg was thinking. Also, when Sawyer’s family tells him not to come home for the holidays, they know the dorms close and that he has nowhere to go. We never see Sawyer tell his family he is staying at Gregg’s and then they send him gifts to Gregg’s house and that all seemed off for me. The story takes place in present day Minnesota, so why Gregg is using words like “sojourn” is never worked into the story. At the end, the men are not in a romantic relationship and I would be interested to see how the series and their relationship progresses.
Sometimes, Always by Suki Fleet—5 stars
This is the story that first interested me in this anthology. It is a follow up to Fleet’s Sometimes There’s Stars and it follows Peri and Echo’s story after the end of that book. It was exactly the story that Peri and Echo needed and exactly the story I needed for them as well. The guys are living together and working at Orchard House and Echo wants to make Christmas special for Peri this year after the events of the past year. Peri and Echo have an all-consuming love that is soft and sweet and Fleet does what she does best here as she describes the special bond they share. It’s truly amazing what Fleet can do with words and this a perfectly magical holiday story for a couple that perfectly complements each other.
No Place Like Home by Garrett Leigh–4.5 stars
There was no indication prior to opening this story that this was a follow up to Pete and Ash’s story from the Roads series. Upon realizing it, I then read the story all of the way thorough immediately. The story picks up directly after Circle, which was an amazing book, and it was equally as amazing to get more Pete and Ash as they are an incredibly special couple. The men are back home after their trip to Oregon, preparing for the holidays, and their life is more settled than they ever imagined. Ash is recovering from surgery and the timeline for that did seem off to me as compared to the previous book Leigh was able to once again capture their essence and their enduring relationship is present in each touch and look and thought they have, and they are what dreams can become. This one wouldn’t work without having read the Roads series, but if you have, I am sure you will share my enthusiasm for more Pete and Ash.
Driving Home for Christmas by Annabelle Jacobs–3.5 stars
Tom and Jared have been best friends for years. When Jared kissed Tom, their relationship changed and they haven’t spoken in months. Tom was afraid of losing his best friend and Jared then wouldn’t respond to the numerous texts Tom sent trying to repair the damage. The story has a short road trip, a snow storm, and only one bed. The story stands alone and captures a brief moment where two friends get exactly what they want for the holidays.